Round Valley and its people share a history marked by hardship. The ubiquity of historical trauma and the hard living of Indian Country forges a people gifted at finding the grace in darkness, the laughter in tough times.
Almost two years ago, on July 18, 2020, an unknown arsonist lit a fire in downtown Covelo that spread through the historic downtown and left three buildings destroyed. In Round Valley fashion, residents found ways to rise from the ashes. One of the businesses has reopened in another location. A group of residents hoping to spread cheer have used the charred buildings as a place to hang Christmas decorations.
Most recently, Shane Grammer, a world-renowned muralist, and advocate for Missing and Murdered Indigenous women, partnered with community members to paint a mural of Round Valley’s very own Khadijah Britton, missing since February 8, 2018. Grammer would install the mural on the smoke-stained walls of the former Round Valley Center for the Arts that was destroyed in the arson fire.
Grammer is no stranger to finding beauty in the rubble. His artistic vision went viral in the wake of 2018’s Camp Fire, California’s most destructive and deadly wildfire destroying 18,804 buildings and killing 85 people. Grammer, raised in Chico, went to the burn area and began to paint portraits of men and women on the charred remains of the community. “That was the first time I ever did work that felt like I connected people in an emotional way. I wanted to continue that work.”
Grammer’s art has expanded. His first exposure to the Missing and Murder Indigenous Women movement was a photoshoot for a young woman with the iconic red hand over her mouth.
This gave way to multiple projects in Mendocino and Lake Counties painting murals and partnering with local youth to teach them about art and advocacy.
In May 2021, Grammer and a group of volunteers completed a mural of Vanessa Niko in Upper Lake. Niko, a member of the Habematolel Pomo tribe, was beaten to death by the father of her children, Willy Tujays Timmons, in 2017.
After completing the mural for Niko, Grammer and a volunteer group of Ukiah youth worked to install a mural of Khadijah Britton facing Ukiah’s highly trafficked State Street. Over two hundred people would gather to honor the mural, Khadijah, and the many other missing and murdered indigenous people on the North Coast.
In April of this year, Grammer partnered with students of Willits High School to install a mural on the campus depicting the movement’s red hand along with nature-scapes and silhouettes of women holding hands representing the mothers and daughters who have fallen victim to the epidemic.
As a non-native artist coming into indigenous communities, Grammer said, “I’m an outsider, but we’re all human.” His faith compels him to advocate for the forgotten and left behind. “I believe we’re all created in God’s image, I just see that everyone is important.”
The mural he completed in Covelo most recently took him back to his time in Paradise. “I love choosing locations where I am bringing beauty among the ashes.” The location of his new mural is just that.
The walls of the former arts are pockmarked with age, punctuated by graffiti, and permeated by a blackened patina that proved the perfect canvas to depict a black and white portrait of Khadijah Britton. In the image, she playfully smiles, almost looking back at the viewer over her shoulder.
Connie Hostler, Khadijah’s mom, told us Grammer’s mural “did a wonderful job honoring Dijah!” Some community members were surprised they had chosen the burnt-down building for her mural, but Connie told us a community member said something that perfectly encapsulated why the destroyed building was the perfect venue for Khadijah’s portrait: “a beautiful soul wrapped in chaos.”
Khadijah’s grandfather Ronnie Hostler told us that “Shane is a good person. I’m very grateful for him doing what he is doing for Khadijah.”
Nearly four and a half years have gone by since any sign of Khadijah. She was last seen on Friday, February 8, 2018, being forced into a vehicle at gunpoint by her ex-boyfriend Negis Fallis. Long-considered a person of interest in her disappearance, law enforcement has been unable to pin down any concrete evidence to charge him with any crime.
Last February, a joint press conference was held with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Matt Kendall described his agency dedicating “literally thousands of hours of investigative time into the case” including hundreds of documented interviews and thousands of hours spent combing rural areas by Search and Rescue.
FBI Agent Scott Schelble explained, “For the last three years, Since March 2018 the FBI has been working with MCSO to follow leads, process evidence, and search for Khadijah Britton.” He promised that the FBI will continue to collaborate with MCSO “and will be “working this case till Khadijah is found.”
Khadijah Britton’s disappearance would prove a galvanizing circumstance for the Missing and Murdered Movement on the North Coast. A report from the Sovereign Bodies Institute found that 107 missing and murdered cases originated from Northern California. Young indigenous women are particularly the victims.
Despite the advocacy from activists and the labors of law enforcement, there has been no breaks in Khadijah’s case and she remains missing to this day. Her grandfather Ronnie told us the reward for any information that would lead to her location had recently increased to $175,000.
Ronnie is aware that members of the community know what happened to his granddaughter. Thinking about how these people can see the dozens of missing banners and say nothing, Ronnie said, “Their conscience has no soul.”
If anyone in the community has information regarding the disappearance of Khadijah Britton, contact the FBI at (415)553-7400 or http://www.tips.fbi.gov. Tips can also be provided directly to MCSO by calling (707)463-4086 or accessing their anonymous tip line at http://www.wetip.com.